Links for Monday, April 20, 2020

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

China’s fiscal revenue tumbled 26.1% in March from a year earlier, officials said on Monday, extending the previous month’s slump as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the economy.

The massive hit to receipts is expected to increase the government’s reliance on borrowing to fund the stimulus needed to prop up collapsing economic growth.

Local governments in China are set to get the green light to issue more bonds to step up infrastructure investment due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy and government revenue.

China’s Ministry of Finance said it would make another early allocation of 2020 special-purpose bond (SPB) quotas worth 1 trillion yuan ($141.4 billion) to local governments, according to a briefing (link in Chinese) on Monday. This will be in addition to the 1.29 trillion yuan [$182.4 billion] of such debt in two tranches previously approved.

The one-year loan prime rate (LPR) was lowered by 20 basis points to 3.85% from 4.05% previously, while the five-year LPR was cut by 10 basis points to 4.65% from 4.75%.

The move was the second cut to the lending benchmark rate this year, and the latest reduction in one of China’s key lending rates. Most new and outstanding loans are based on the LPR, while the five-year rate influences the pricing of mortgages.

China Mobile Ltd.’s wireless user base shrank in the first quarter as the spread of the new coronavirus shut down China’s economy and prompted millions to cancel services at the country’s largest mobile carrier.

Subscriptions fell by 3.98 million in the three months ended March, the state-owned carrier said in a statement Monday. Net income fell 0.8% to 23.5 billion yuan ($3.3 billion).

In a decision fraught with geopolitical and economic ramifications, the government on Saturday amended its foreign direct investment (FDI) policy to put a blanket ban on investments through the automatic route by entities from countries that share a border with India. The move is seen as an attempt to ward off the threat of “opportunistic” Chinese takeover of Indian companies, whose valuations have been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The curbs, which were already in force for investments from Pakistan and Bangladesh, will extend to entities where Chinese citizens have “beneficial ownership” to ensure that the restrictions are not circumvented by routing investments via Hong Kong, Singapore or other countries.

A dozen Chinese anthracite coal miners have called on the industry to slash production by 10% from current levels amid weak demand caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

While anthracite coal output is now back at last year’s levels, demand recovery has lagged, leading to a “severe mismatch” in market fundamentals, according to a statement published Saturday on the website of the China Coal Transport & Distribution Association.

  • Myths about Chinese debt relief
    Chinese debt relief: Fact and fiction / The Diplomat
    Deborah Brautigam, director of the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, writes that contrary to conventional wisdom, China does not frequently cancel debt, Chinese debt negotiations are not easy, and China does not often seize assets for non-performing loans.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

  • Chinese team finds first hard evidence that mutation can affect how severely [the] virus harms its host.
  • Most aggressive strains could generate 270 times as much viral load as the least potent type.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

President Trump’s intensifying criticism of China isn’t just about deflecting blame during the coronavirus crisis — it’s opening up a new line of attack against Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

In a new video, Biden agrees that Chinese authorities were not honest about the early outbreak in Wuhan, and sought to cover up the contagion and the deaths.

A presidential candidate can, of course, attack the Chinese government without attacking Chinese Americans. But doing so requires some rhetorical finesse — something the Biden ad lacks. The ad doesn’t say that Trump “rolled over” for “Xi Jinping” or the “Chinese government” or even “China.” It says he rolled over for “the Chinese.” As a result, Kaiser Kuo, editor at large of the website SupChina, told me, the ad may contribute to a political “race to the bottom,” in which “Asian Americans will suffer even more terribly from racism.”

President Donald Trump raised the prospect that China deliberately caused the COVID-19 outbreak that’s killed over 39,000 Americans and said there should be consequences if the country is found to be “knowingly responsible.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Sunday that the first country exposed to a pandemic has a “moral obligation” to be transparent in its response.

“Let’s see what happens with their investigation. But we’re doing investigations also,” Trump said at a White House news conference on Saturday. “If it was a mistake, a mistake is a mistake. But if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, then there should be consequences.”

The strategy could not be clearer: From the Republican lawmakers blanketing Fox News to new ads from President Trump’s super PAC to the biting criticism on Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter feed, the G.O.P. is attempting to divert attention from the administration’s heavily criticized response to the coronavirus by pinning the blame on China…

But there is a potential impediment to the G.O.P. plan — the leader of the party himself.

A bipartisan push has begun for a global inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, including China’s handling of the initial outbreak in the city of Wuhan.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has urged China to allow transparency in the process and does not believe the World Health Organisation (WHO) should run the inquiry.

Hu’s son [his mother…died of COVID-19] is now suing the Wuhan municipal government for allegedly concealing the seriousness of the virus, among other complaints, according to court documents prepared by Funeng, a public welfare NGO based in Changsha. Hu’s son is among a small but significant group of residents seeking answers, compensation or simply an apology from officials who took weeks to notify the public of the threat from a virus that went on to claim the lives of at least 4,000 people in China, according to government figures, most of them in Wuhan.

  • COVID-19 outbreak in Harbin…  
    Harbin outbreak threatens China’s coronavirus recovery / FT (paywall)
    “China first reported zero new local infections in mid-March and only a few cases were disclosed in subsequent weeks. In the past week, however, dozens of transmissions within the country have been confirmed, the vast majority in Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia.”
    Global health expert Yanzhong Huang notes on Twitter: “The outbreak in Harbin shows how fragile China’s coronavirus recovery is. Such outbreaks may become a new normal in months to come.”
    China tip sheet April 20, 2020 / Trivium Tip Sheet

The government believes that human error may be to blame for the virus’s spread in Harbin, the capital city of Heilongjiang and epicenter of regional cases (Xinhua).

Last Friday, provincial authorities penalized 18 officials and medical staff, including the vice mayor of Harbin, for lax enforcement of epidemic protocols.

A health-tracking app developed by China’s central government and National Health Commission to monitor the spread of COVID-19 has marked Beijing’s eastern Chaoyang District as a “high-risk zone” [cities such as Wuhan and Guangzhou meanwhile are marked as low or middle risk]…  

Páng Xīnghuǒ 庞星火, the deputy director of Beijing’s disease prevention and control center, said [in Chinese] Monday that Chaoyang District had been marked as a high-risk zone because local infection clusters had been reported there in the past 14 days.

Now, the administration is considering its next step, which could be to expel specific Chinese journalists it views as spies, Edward Wong and Julian E. Barnes reported. Other ideas are also being discussed, said Michael Pillsbury, a Trump adviser and director of the Hudson Institute’s Center on Chinese Strategy, including whether Chinese access to the big American platforms of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook could be limited. (The platforms are blocked in China, but are powerful vehicles for Chinese propaganda globally.)

And the fewer independent American reporters there are working in Beijing, the more the China story may be shaped by U.S. officials.

The Chinese government “is going to discover the cost of not having a significant presence of reporters on the ground,” said Mr. Buckley, an Australian New York Times reporter who has also been told to leave China after his visa expired when he was in quarantine in Wuhan. “The China story as a whole becomes even more hostage to these lurid representations and misrepresentations of the country that you would think the Chinese government would have some interests in allowing people to rebut.”

Towards the end of last week, there was a sense that the crisis around the eviction of African migrants in Guangzhou had receded and African leaders were eager to move on. One African official after another publicly declared that they accept China’s explanation for the rash of evictions and refusal of services…

But those assurances, either from the Chinese or African officials, didn’t convince everyone.

Beginning late Thursday night and continuing right through the weekend, a wave of anger and frustration swept across African social media platforms and conventional media outlets. Even some African politicians joined the angry chorus, pointing to continued claims of maltreatment.

Here is a quick take on how the situation is going to continue to play out in the near future, based on information available to us from public sources:

  • Tensions between Chinese authorities and African communities will likely continue.
  • Chinese social media will be slightly tamed for racial contents.
  • True people to people connection is taking place.

The African Development Bank Group on April 17, 2020, announced a 12-month conditional non-debarment of Zhongmei Engineering Group Limited, an engineering company registered in Uganda.

An investigation conducted by the Bank’s Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption established that Zhongmei Engineering Group Limited engaged in fraudulent practice during a bidding process under the Road Sector Support Project 5.

  • Medical marijuana in Taiwan
    Chris Horton on Twitter: “‘Weed can help’ — This morning on 4/20, Taiwan’s Green Party and the NGO Green Sensation demonstrated outside the legislature to demand the legalization of medical marijuana and establishment of a cannabis supply chain in Taiwan.”
  • Crime off the coast of South Africa
    Chinese crew guilty of throwing Tanzanian stowaways overboard / Times Live (South Africa)

The captain and six crew members of a Panama-registered bulk carrier pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder on Friday, in connection with an incident in which they forced two stowaways overboard and left them to drift in a home-made raft off the KwaZulu-Natal north coast.

They spent two days adrift before eventually washing up on Zinkwazi beach.

In mitigation of sentence, defence Advocate Willie Lombard said Salumu and Rajabu had been given life jackets and water and the crew could see land.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

In 1911, a deadly epidemic spread through China and threatened to become a pandemic. Its origins appeared to be related to the trade in wild animals, but at the time no one was sure…

When the disease was eventually brought under control, the Chinese government convened the International Plague Conference in the northern city of Shenyang — close to the epicenter of the outbreak.

In attendance were virologists, bacteriologists, epidemiologists and disease experts from many of the world’s major powers — the United States, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and France.

Period dramas have long been a staple of Chinese television, and now there’s a new one on the block: “Serenade of Peaceful Joy.”

But has the series, set in the Song dynasty, been able to win over audiences? The reactions have been mixed.

Imagine if fighting against the patriarchy were a board game, and you had to make choices as a woman to stay alive. How long could you survive?

That’s the objective of Li Zhihui’s Life, a South Korean choose-your-own-adventure game in which players must decide how Zhihui will handle various instances of gender discrimination.  

In this issue, we turn our lens to the grand experiment of extended distance learning that’s taking place all over the world right now. Author Mù Lè 木乐, a homeroom teacher and English instructor at a Chinese primary school — and a mother of a primary student herself — offers this meticulous account first published by The Livings in Chinese on February 21.

Three decades ago, when the Chinese central government announced it would help Shanghai develop parts of the city east of the Huangpu River, known as Pudong, the area could barely be called urban.

That feels like a long time ago now. Today, Pudong is an icon of Chinese modernity, a center of world finance and trade, a tech hub, and home to an instantly recognizable skyline dominated by the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. It even has a Disney theme park.